This is the first in the Inspector Sejer (pronounced SAY-ear) series and the first mystery to be discussed as part of the Library’s Global Gathering Norway project (next month we’ll discuss “The Bat” by Jo Nesbo). Having read some pretty grim and graphic Scandinavian mysteries previously, I was pleasantly surprised to find this one much more concerned with solving the puzzle of a crime rather than describing dark goings-on in intricate, disturbingly gory detail. Inspector Sejer is not depressed or dysfunctional, but well-liked, a widower who loved his wife. He’s well-mannered, a bit shy, and, most importantly, has such compassion that he feels the pain inflicted on victim, perpetrator, and investigator alike. His main weapon is not a gun, but a belief in justice and a need to understand the criminal mind.
This is a slim book that can be read over and over with delight and pondering. Forget doing any Google searches. No website’s going to give you the answers to what “God” (or “god”) is, why there’s pain, why we exist. We can only find answers to those questions within ourselves. And they change from day to day just as we do.
The main theme could not be more serious: deciding what’s really important in life and following your heart. This is a very Finnish book. Our fragile connection with nature is examined, and nature seems to play an important and almost magical role in the national identity of Finns. They don’t seem to mind snow–it comes with the territory. There is a tension between individual freedom and government regulation and allusions to Finland’s traditional enmity with and distrust of Russia.
“Seeds of Hope” is almost like a memoir as the author talks about her relationship with plants and trees throughout her life in a very personal, personable way. Photographs (both black & white and color) are used throughout the book to good effect. Goodall is most known for her work with chimpanzees, but she has always had a special relationship with trees. She’d spent many hours in a beech tree growing up in England reading about Africa and doing her homework.
The Armenian genocide took place 100 years ago in the Ottoman Empire. Turkey currently denies that it was genocide, so there’s a great deal of controversy going on, especially during this centennial year. “The Sandcastle Girls” is written by someone with Armenian heritage, and it’s pretty clear what he thinks.
The impetus for reading this book came from a trip to Eldon, Iowa, to visit the original house Grant Wood used as the background for his 1930 iconic painting American Gothic. If you haven’t been to The American Gothic House Visitor Center, I do recommend it. The story behind the painting and the subsequent parodies of it are fascinating and, best of all, visitors get to dress up in American Gothic garb and, holding pitchforks, stand in front of the house for a photo opportunity.